If you’re an active person with an opinion, it’s almost impossible to avoid conflict. This is the 21st century. The world is connected. There’s nowhere left to hide. And that means you have to interact regularly with people who are different from you.
People are diverse. We like to eat different food, wear different clothes, listen to different music, watch different movies and read different books. We also differ on core beliefs, like religion, politics and philosophy, and even the mannerisms, thought processes and ways of acting and reacting that make up our personalities.
Naturally we form close friendships with people when we have a lot in common, and we minimize interactions when we have little in common. When we don’t share interests, beliefs or ideals with someone, we just don’t get them.
But often we have no choice. We have to interact with people we don’t get because they are colleagues, bosses, classmates, neighbors, or family. Or maybe we are just stuck sitting next to them on an airplane and they want to talk.
Some of these people rub you the wrong way and conflict seems unavoidable. Sure, you can probably get along with them if you keep your head down and your mouth shut and pretend to agree with everything they say. But who wants to do that?
If you do that often enough it will destroy your personality and your soul. It will fill you with resentment and frustration. You will become a hollow, subservient doormat or you will explode with rage and do something you will regret.
Is it possible to get along with these people without losing your personality and opinions in the process?
You won’t get along with everyone all the time. If you are an active and assertive person, you will get into disagreements once in a while. This is healthy and normal. But if you minimize unnecessary disagreements and control the backlash when they do occur, you can get along with most people most of the time. To do this you will need to utilize certain key traits.
If you treat others with respect they will respond well. More importantly, if you genuinely have respect for others, treating them with respect will come naturally. This is about mindset. Why do we not respect people in the first place?
Because we judge them.
That’s what we do as humans. We judge everyone and everything. That’s called having opinions.
It’s good to have opinions, even about people. But there are different ways of making judgments and forming opinions. “I don’t like James because he’s stupid” is an opinion that fosters disrespect. “I don’t like to be around James because he says stupid things” is an opinion that still allows for respect.
Why? Because it separates the action from the person.
In the first example you describe James as a whole person in a negative way that leaves nothing of value. In the second you describe something James does in a negative way, but leave it open that there might be other aspects of James worth valuing, even if you personally are not aware of them. This is the key.
What we see of a person in one aspect of their life rarely presents the complete picture. It’s a lot easier to respect the people you don’t like if you stop assuming that what you know of them is all there is.
When I was in school I had a teacher who had a well-earned reputation for being a dragon. But if you met her outside of a school setting, her best-kept secret was revealed: she was a sweet and wonderful person!
This will not be true of everyone, but respect means giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Another reason we often have trouble respecting people is that we don’t respect their opinions if they are very different from our own. First of all, different is not wrong. And second, what makes your own opinions so great?
Most of us are guilty of having a few poorly thought out or wildly inaccurate opinions. How does it feel when someone else writes you off as an idiot because of it? So why do it to them?
Know the value of silence. If someone is obnoxiously pushing their opinion down your throat, then just keep your mouth shut. You don’t have to agree with them. What’s the value in starting an argument with someone like that anyway? If their opinion is that strong, then they aren’t open to changing it. They will just shout down your reasoned argument, so don’t bother.
Of course, if you know that someone is wrong you want to show them the light.
You’ve got things figured out. You have the answers. You know how things really work. And you want other people to know it.
The first thing to realize is that telling your opinions to others doesn’t validate those opinions. They are valid because you hold them. It’s automatic. All your opinions are valid by virtue of your humanity. But that means that so are everybody else’s. Yes, everyone has valid opinions even if they are wrong.
If you recognize that, you will respect other people and their opinions. There are right and wrong opinions, but there are not valid and invalid opinions. We are all equal. And we all have the right to be wrong.
But don’t use silence as a weapon. When you feel attacked and want to give a negative reply, you might manage to contain it but instead use body language to convey your negative emotions. Don’t do that.
That’s not a better way than speaking out.
Instead of avoiding conflict, you will anger the other person and increase the level of tension. The end result is usually either feelings of resentment or an angry explosion. If you can’t get rid of your emotions, then it’s better to speak your mind than stay silent.
Some people think it’s better to always speak your mind, no matter if it hurts the other person, because containing your emotions is unhealthy.
It’s true that containing your emotions is unhealthy, but there are other options.
A better way is to vent your emotions into the ether. Don’t contain them, don’t throw them at the other person, just let them go. It’s not easy, but it’s possible and you can learn it.
How? You have to stop and think. Emotions and intellect tend to get in each other’s way.
The goal is not to be an unemotional robot that uses logic to work through every conflict. But you can think your way out of negative emotions when necessary. Ask yourself questions. Why are you angry? Is it really important? Does your anger serve a purpose?
Sometimes it does. We use anger to protect ourselves. But if you alienate a friend or loved one, you both get hurt. You protect yourself in the moment, but in the long run you still get hurt.
Anger is a self-protective instinct. It helps you avoid getting pushed around or taken advantage of. But it also destroys relationships. Anger is not inherently bad, but it needs to be controlled and only used at appropriate times.
Humans are highly social beings.
Jungle cats can live by instinct and be successful, because they keep to themselves.
Maybe you can too if you live alone in the wilderness. But the more you gain control of your instincts, the more you will succeed at socializing.
Getting along with everyone is not about being popular or loved by all. Pursuing those goals will take you down a dark path because it’s impossible (the more people love you, the more jealousy you will incite in others—there’s no way to win). Your self-esteem will become mixed up with the way others see you. Getting along with people is a practical goal to make both your life and the lives of others more peaceful and harmonious.
So practice humility. Recognize that not everyone will think you are wonderful.
I’m not telling you not to have pride. I’m a very proud person. But be proud in a humble way. Love yourself, take pride in your accomplishments, and feel good when you do good things. But don’t preach your greatness to others. Know your worth inside and let others praise you if they want, but don’t revel in it and don’t expect it or demand it.
This is important. If you know your own value, no one can make you feel worthless. Maintain your self-esteem and it will be difficult for others to hurt you.
I don’t mean a creepy fake smile and a wink.
Genuine charm will get you places. Smile, laugh, make eye contact, be kind and chivalrous, hold doors open for people, keep your head up and your shoulders back.
You don’t have to be a social butterfly. Even introverts can be charming. It’s not about knowing the right things to say and always having a good joke up your sleeve. It’s about making others feel good. Listen to them, care about them, be happy around them. Think about how you feel around people who are happy and seem genuinely interested in what you have to say and what’s going on in your life.
Pretty damn good, right? Everyone wants that. Give it to them and they will be charmed.
Empathy is a wonderful thing. Probably it should be closer to the top, but this list is not in order of importance. As I explained in another post, empathy is a superpower that can heal the world. Yes, it’s that powerful.
Empathy is not the same as sympathy. It isn’t about feeling sorry for people. It’s about understanding them, their feelings and what makes them tick. It’s about learning to see the world through their eyes.
Everyone wants to be understood. In fact, feeling misunderstood is a common source of many negative emotions. It’s the stereotypical plight of teenagers, but it happens to everyone and it sucks.
Go and listen intently to a sad or upset person until you understand how they feel. Don’t judge them. Listen. Try to put yourself in their shoes. You’ll be their white knight.
Then go find a happy person and empathize with them too. Share their joy. Feels good, doesn’t it?
It’s much harder to be empathetic when someone’s negative feelings are directed at you. You have to step back and think of it from their point of view instead of your own. That’s advanced, and it won’t come quickly or easily.
You have to work very hard at it. But when you can do it, you’ll have the power to take away their bad feelings and earn their trust. You’ll be a social wizard, able to get along with almost anyone.
There’s one last trait I want to mention. Positivity. Think positive thoughts, focus on positive things. It sounds wishy-washy, but it works. If you have trouble with it, check out this article for some helpful advice.
It will change your whole attitude. Positive people are charming and they build up other people and infect them with positive thoughts. Positive people respect others because they look for the good in them.
You don’t have to walk around with a stupid grin on your face, thinking about unicorns and rainbows.
Don’t ignore the bad things happening in the world. But don’t let them overwhelm you. Always keep one part of your brain tuned to the good things.
The world can sometimes seem like a shithole, but it’s full of beauty. Keep that beauty in your mind’s eye even when you are in the middle of the shit. It will keep you happy and others will be drawn to your happiness.
Don’t take my word for it. Do you know anyone who is positive, respectful, humble, charming and empathetic? Do they get in a lot of conflicts? Do they seem happy?
Put these traits to work in your life and you can be like them.